In the first major anti-piracy operation closest to India’s shores, the Navy and Coast Guard on Friday sank a pirate ship near Lakshadweep, rescued 20 fishermen and arrested 15 Somalian pirates. The big catch comes two months after the navy launched its biggest anti-piracy drive off India’s west coast.
The pirates had been on the prowl in the eastern parts of Arabian Sea since last April after they hijacked a Thai vessel, Prantalay, and were using it as a mother vessel for carrying out a wave of attacks on merchant vessels. INS Cankarso, a fast attack craft, intercepted the mother ship 370 km off the Kochi coast on Friday evening (around 5 pm), but the pirates opened fire with automatic weapons in a desperate bid to escape. Prantalay burst into flames and sank after the navy retaliated with “limited fire in self defence.”.A navy official said Cankarso fired a warning shot in keeping with internationally accepted norms after efforts to establish communication with Prantalay failed. But instead of stopping, the pirates began spraying bullets from their Kalashnikovs. Fuel drums onboard Prantalay exploded when the navy struck back.
The chase lasted around seven hours. Within minutes of receiving a distress call from MV CMA CGM Verdi, a Bahama-flagged container ship, on Friday morning (10.30 am), a coast guard Dornier aircraft spotted two skiffs (speedboats) attempting a piracy attack. The skiffs aborted their mission and dashed towards the mother vessel sensing trouble from the skies.
“Prantalay hurriedly hoisted the two skiffs onboard and set a westerly course to escape. It was clear that the vessel was a pirate mother ship,” said the official. Navy and coast guard Dorniers kept tracking the mother ship and gave its coordinates to Cankarso for delivering the final punch. It was already deployed in the area for anti piracy patrols. The fishermen rescued by the navy are of Thai and Myanmarese origin. The pirates are likely to be brought to Mumbai for legal action. INS Kalpeni and Coast Guard Ship Sankalp also took part in the operation.
Defence minister AK Antony inaugurated two coast guard stations in Lakshadweep last month, reinforcing India’s maritime security architecture.
The navy had launched four warships last November to sanitise the eastern parts of the Arabian Sea after a spurt of piracy attempts reported by transiting merchant vessels. Helicopters and patrol aircraft are supporting the warships, with marine commandos onboard. The navy has chased away a few mother ships from the area in the last two months. It had been on Prantalay’s tail for a while but the pirates may have managed to give the navy a slip a few weeks ago.
The navy has been carrying out anti-piracy patrols in the international waters off the Gulf of Aden since October 2008.